Hamilton, NJ – Outside of car crashes, heatstroke is the number one killer of children.  AAA Mid-Atlantic has joined with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to remind parents and caregivers about the deadly consequences of leaving children in hot cars and to urge them to “look before you lock.”

According to NHTSA, in 2014 there were at least 30 heatstroke deaths of children who were left in vehicles.  “As outside temperatures rise, the risk of children unfortunately dying from being left alone inside a hot vehicle also rises,” said Sue Madden, Public Affairs Specialist for AAA Mid-Atlantic in New Jersey. “Statistics show that on average, one child dies from heatstroke nearly every 10 days from being left in a hot vehicle, but what is most tragic is that these deaths can be prevented.”

Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash-related fatalities for children 14 and younger. According to NHTSA, from 1998-2014, 636 children died due to heatstroke. Of the 636 deaths, 53% of children were “forgotten” by a caregiver (336), 29% of children were playing in an unattended vehicle (186), 17% of children were intentionally left in the vehicle by an adult (110) and 1% were unknown cases (4 children).  

A child’s body temperature can rise up to five times faster than that of an adult, and heatstroke can occur in outside temperatures as low as 57 degrees.  On an 80-degree day, a car can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes.  

Heatstroke occurs when the core body temperature reaches about 104 degrees, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down.  It becomes lethal at a core temperature of 107 degrees.  Heatstroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

“We want to get the word out to parents and caregivers to look in the back of your car before you lock the door,” advises Madden.  “Even if you have to put a reminder post-it note on your dashboard or an alarm on your phone, do it.” 

Know the warning signs of heatstroke, which include: red, hot, and moist or dry skin; no sweating; a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse; nausea; confusion; or acting strangely. If a child exhibits any of these signs after being in a hot vehicle, call 911 immediately and while waiting for emergency help, cool the child rapidly by spraying them with cool water or with a garden hose, NEVER an ice bath.

AAA urges all parents and caregivers to:

1) NEVER leave a child in an unattended vehicle

2) Make it a habit to look in the backseat EVERY time you exit the car

3) ALWAYS lock the car and put the keys out of reach.

4) And, if you ever see a child left alone in a hot vehicle, call 911 right away.